Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Morgan in Japan


Hello fellow readers,

My name is Morgan Overcash, a Junior Communication Studies major at UNCG. This spring semester, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Kyoto, Japan. It’s hard to put my experience into words, but I will do the best I can. The difficult point is finding out where to start. How does one put 4 months of intercultural experience into just a few paragraphs? I don’t think anyone has found the answer to that yet, and probably never will, but that’s what makes it so exciting, right? Now, let’s begin!

My dragon, Peter, and I are ready for our trip to Hiroshima
 At Miyajima (the floating shrine). Don't let that deer fool you though, it tried to eat Peter

I study communications at UNCG, but I have been taking Japanese classes as well. Therefore, when I came to Japan, I decided to solely focus on becoming better at Japanese (a dream of mine for many years). For the past few months, I have been studying Japanese at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. Let me tell you, it has truly been a unique learning experience. Transitioning from having Japanese being taught in English to Japanese being taught in Japanese definitely helps you improve your language learning much faster. It’s nerve-wracking at first, but you quickly become immersed in the language, and I honestly believe it is the best way to learn a foreign language. With Ritsumeikan’s intensive Japanese language track, holding 3 types of classes 5 days a week, you will quickly become closer to your classmates, sharing the struggles of learning a language completely different from your own. However, friends are not only made in class, but in your dorm as well.

With friends at Fushimi Inari, a very famous serious
 of gates and shrines in Kyoto
Ritsumeikan University during sakura season

At Osaka Aquarium (海遊館) with friend Momoko

I lived in the dorm Taishogun this semester. A dorm filled with about 190 other students is bound to create some new friendships, and I for one, am thankful for every single friend I have made while being here. If you’re worried about making friends, don’t be. I know you probably hear this all the time, and trust me, even I was skeptical at first, but no matter how long it takes, whether it’s two days or two weeks, friends are right next to you. Literally, right next to you...I became friends with my neighbor before I even knew she was my neighbor. See, crazy things like this happen when you study abroad, and the people who have gone abroad before you are not lying when they say friends are around every corner. This doesn’t mean you can just sit back and let them come to you though. You have to take the initiative to go up and talk to people as well. The most interesting people you will ever meet are the ones you meet while you’re abroad. I have heard so many amazing stories, and I think sometimes we forget just how big this world really is. These friends you make may or may not become your best friends, but the times you share with them will be unforgettable and you will carry them with you for a lifetime. Studying abroad does not come without your own misadventures. There will be many times where you mess up, get lost, or say the wrong thing, but hey, that’s what studying abroad is all about. We aren’t perfect, and your friends are going to be there to help you out (or take pictures of you with a cast when you sprain your ankle playing volleyball).

Me when I injured my ankle playing volleyball (nothing serious, just a sprain)

With friends in Uji, home to some of Japan's best green tea (まっちゃ)

With my friend Jess in Osaka next to this famous poster of a man running (don't ask me why it's famous, I don't actually know)

Well, enough about those things, what you really want to hear about is what Japan’s like, right? Japan is a place that holds fast to its past, while also continuing to progress through the modern age. Kyoto especially, is a very traditional city, littered with shrines, temples, gardens, and more. It’s the place you go to if you want modernity and tradition all at once. I have been to 4 other cities while living here in Japan; Osaka, Hiroshima, Nara, and Shirahama. Each place is unique and fun in its own way. However, the most surprising and interesting thing about Japan is that, no matter where you, you can always catch a glimpse of the past and the present all at the same time. So, if you love history and tradition, yet still want the hustle and bustle of tourism and city life, Japan is definitely a smart choice. 

Attack of the deer! In Nara, where wild deer roam freely and
 chase you when they realize
you have food (don't worry though it is totally safe)
Samurai in Miyajima

A-bomb site in Hiroshima

It’s difficult to say all of the things I have done while I was here, but just to name a few; I went to the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, saw the A-bomb site, went to the beach, went to Japan’s oldest onsen, watched traditional, Japanese music performances, got to pet wild deer, went to a Japanese baseball game, and literally ate as much as my stomach could hold. There is so much to do here that 4 months is only good enough if you do not have to go to class (sadly that isn’t an option). My favorite thing about Japan is the people. They can usually tell if you’re a foreigner (especially if you look like me), but that only makes them want to help you more. If you can’t speak Japanese, they will try their best to help you as much as possible. So, don’t get frustrated, just take your time with them and it’ll work out. Customer service here is something that other countries should strive towards. Some people may say you don’t need to know Japanese to get around, but believe me when I tell you it is so much easier when you at least know a little. If I did not know some Japanese before coming here, I think I would have had a more difficult time getting around or asking random people questions (directions and ordering food for example). I encourage you, if you want to come to Japan, learn some of the basics. They are very simple and easy with practice so don’t worry. Also, it is the best thing in the world to see a Japanese person’s face when they hear you speaking Japanese (no matter how bad it is). They truly appreciate it when foreigners attempt to speak to them in their language, and sometimes this is the best way to become friends with Japanese people. Step out of your comfort zone and try everything because study abroad is the time for it.

Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion)

Peter at a temple in Uji

Okonomiyaki and Yakisoba

I don’t want to give you clichés because with every study abroad blogpost you read they are all there, but some of them are true and very important. This experience has changed me, taught me a lot about myself, and has shown me just how little we know about the world (and how little we will ever fully understand). I am about to tell you something many people may neglect to mention, study abroad is not all sunshine  and rainbows. There, I said it, but hear me out because it is very important. Things you normally have help with at home, you will have to do alone abroad. Things you normally avoid at home, you will have to confront head-on abroad. Going abroad is meant to shape you, reveal things about yourself that you never realized before, and teach you things you never even knew existed. Isn’t this why you’re in the honors college, to stretch your mind as far as it can possibly go? You are still in reality while you’re abroad, you are going to go through some hard times, but the fun times are going to be more numerous and will outweigh all of the bad. All in all, studying abroad is a life changing experience. I have no regrets, and it is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. 

Me in Shirahama, located in Wakayama. Beach town and home to Japan's oldest onsen, Seki-No-Yu

If you’d like to know more about the program I did, or about Japan in general, shoot me an email:


Morgan Overcash
Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto

Spring 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Christina in Shanghai!

Teo and I love Shanghai Normal University (SHNU)!

Nĭ hăo,

My name is Christina Santiago, I am an Elementary and Special Education (Dual) major at UNC-G and this Summer I have had the pleasure to study at Shanghai Normal University (SHNU) at Shanghai, China! To begin, I want to express how grateful I feel for being here. Studying abroad began as a dream that later turned into a goal and now it is finally a reality. But, to be completely honest, I was not always sure of where I wanted to study abroad I just knew that I wanted to go study outside of the country and the faculty-led program through the School of Education was a great opportunity for me to turn my goal into reality. What really sealed my decision to study abroad here was the collaboration we’d be participating in with Mathematics teachers here in Shanghai, China. Little did I know that the best part was yet to come... I am now on my third and final week here in Shanghai and although I am a bit sad, I plan to continue to make the most of it. Keep reading to find out more about Shanghai and my adventures here! J 

Nanjing Road, Shanghai, China. 

 About Shanghai, China
Shanghai is such a large metropolitan city that offers many cultural sites. One of the most famous sites is Nanjing Road, the main shopping street of Shanghai and one of the world’s busiest shopping streets. Nanjing Road, which is divided into two sections, leads you to another well-known site, The Bund. At The Bund, you can experience a beautiful view of the modern, “new,” Shanghai, which includes the sighting of the famous Oriental Pearl Tower, the Shanghai Tower, and many other skyscrapers.  

A walk through Nahjing Road!

View of Shanghai from The Bund!

Educational Experiences

As mentioned, one of our responsibilities of studying abroad through this program is to collaborate with Mathematical teachers and experience the Chinese education. I have been honored to intern at the Shanghai Experimental School International District (SESID). To give you some background information about SESID, it is a public primary school that serves international students from all over the world. Therefore, the students who attend this school are not considered Shanghai local residents. The students that attend SESID attend this school mainly because their families have moved here for reasons such as job relocations, etc. Nevertheless, the students are held to the same educational expectations as other local students. Perhaps the biggest difference is that their instruction can sometimes be bilingual rather than 100% in Mandarin. But, generally, students are able to learn Mandarin as they progress through their school years here at SESID. 

Student game competition at SESID.

Something I have really been enjoying about the education system here in China, specifically in Shanghai, is the idea of allowing students to play, experiment and perform… an idea that is emphasized by the Lloyd International Honors College. In the picture above, the 3rd graders are seen competing with each other in a fun mathematics game. But… not just any game… it is a game that specifically reviews the unit they have completed. It is very typical to see students engaging in fun activities that involve movement to practice and assess their knowledge rather than seeing them complete worksheets after worksheets or tests. In fact, last week we observed an entire school participate in a poem competition and lots of other activities that involved poems. The curriculum here is also fast paced compared to our curriculum in North Carolina but nonetheless; I enjoy seeing how they learn in fun and creative ways. For example, in China every class lasts 35 minutes and after every class students are given a 10-minute break where they are allowed to play all over the school… literally! I know it sounds chaotic but they are so independent and disciplined that I was impressed myself, and still am the more I am exposed to it.

Shopping for supplies, Mathematical activity at SESID

Also, at SESID, and in schools across the country, children are encouraged to participate in numerous electives and extracurricular activities of their choice. One of the electives that SESID offers is the Gu Zheng elective, where children have the opportunity to learn how to play this traditional Chinese instrument… and just to say the least… THESE STUDENTS ARE TALENTED!

Learning how to play the Gu Zheng, a traditional instrument

More Experiences and Cultural Sites

Wearing a Han Fu at the SHNU Feng Xian Campus

Modeling in my Han Fu, traditional Chinese dress, because you aren’t really emerging into a culture until you step into their traditional clothing… no really though. The traditional dresses are very beautiful and comfortable… I almost wanted to take it home! 

Chenghuang Temple, burning leaves to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. 

Because I am studying here during the summer, I have been fortunate enough to experience the Dragon Boat Festival, a national holiday here in China. This festival lasts 3 days and people are typically given a 3-day vacation so that they can spend this holiday with their families. A lot of tourists can be seen here during this time as well. Because it is a national holiday that brings families together, people are usually seen engaging in different activities, from visiting cultural sites to staying home and enjoying traditional meals.

Chenshan Botanical Garden (Songjiang District).

Photos of the beautiful Chenshan Botanical Garden!!

Another one of my favorite things about China is the Botanical Gardens that are located throughout the country. I went to visit the Chenshan Botanical Garden here in Shanghai and I must say it was a breathtaking, yet a relaxing, experience. These gardens are a must see! In fact, the environmental efforts here have challenged my perspective of what I thought China, more specifically Shanghai, was like. Too many times I heard that the pollution is bad and the population is too high, yet I am so impressed with their effort to decrease their waste. For example, in just about every block you run into both trash cans and recycling cans. But that is not all; I was even more surprised with the limited amount of litter that I see around the streets of Shanghai, considering its population of approximately 24 million people.

Cultural sightseeing in QiBao, Shanghai, China

Kung Fu kick in QiBao, Shanghai, China.  

Personally, studying abroad has allowed me to get to know myself a little better as I have found myself having to be a bit more independent than the usual. This experience has also allowed me to get to know and experience a culture that is completely different from my own. But the best part of it all, I have built meaningful and life-long relationships with SHNU undergraduates and Shanghai educators. In fact, being emerged in this culture and their education system has challenged and impacted my perspective on education in ways that I never imagined. Everything I have learned here are things I hope to adapt as a future teacher and incorporate in my own classroom, in some way, in hopes to model an ideal education for all students. It saddens me to think that I will only be here for one more week. Nonetheless, I plan to continue emerging in this culture for the time left. So… my advice to anyone reading this is, if studying abroad is crossing your mind or is simply a dream for now, hold on to that dream and work towards turning it into a reality.  “It’s a life changing experience,” says everyone… and genuinely, it really is! That is all for now, I must go and enjoy my last week in this beautiful country! J

Delicious food with friends!

Because it would take me a lifetime to discuss all of my experiences on this blog, please feel free to contact me if you would like to learn more about Shanghai, China, the program I am participating in, or more about general study abroad information.



Christina Santiago
Shanghai Normal University
Spring 2017

Friday, June 2, 2017

Becky in Kyoto!

Hi everyone!

I’m Becky, and at UNCG I’m a junior English and Asian Studies major, but here at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto I’m a level 3 student in the Intensive Japanese Language Track of the Study in Kyoto Program. (That’s 3 out of 8. They aren’t kidding when they call it intense.)
When I first got here, I’m not gonna lie, I cried a little while I unpacked, and then I passed out for about 12 hours. But I had just left my friends and family on the other side of the world and traveled for about 18 hours to a city where I knew absolutely no one and (apparently) barely spoke the language. It’s a little stressful, no one blames you.

Meical at the falls at Hanayashiki

My friends and I at Arashiyama. I'm conveniently in the middle.

Once the stress of coming to a new place passes and I started to learn my way around, the people from my dorm and I started to go out and explore more and spend time together, and I’m happy to say that some of them are some of my closest friends. It’s amazing how little time it takes to get close to someone when you’re living in another country with them. I was sitting watching anime with some friends one weekend when I thought about how close we all were, like we had known each other for years… and then I realized that we had only known each other for about three weeks.

Hozomon in Asakusa. I didn't get a picture of Kaminarimon, but I think Hozomon is more impressive, anyway. 

Kinkaku-ji is just so pretty that I couldn't help but feel like a tourist and take a bunch of pictures. 

Kyoto itself is a beautiful city with tons of history. There are temples and shrines everywhere, and even if you had a week of doing nothing but visiting them, I’m not sure you could do it. There’s also castles, since for a long time, Kyoto was the capital of Japan. I was lucky enough to be here while the sakura were in bloom, which was incredible. Everything was pink and looked almost fluffy. I just wish I could have done more sightseeing while they were in bloom, but alas, the “study” part of “study abroad.”

The train stop near Ritsumeikan when the sakura were in full bloom 

You can pretty much see all of Kairaku-en from inside the General's house.

Classes haven’t stopped me from travelling and seeing new things completely, though. During Golden Week, which is basically spring break for the whole country, I took a trip to eastern Japan. I took the shinkansen from Kyoto Station in the morning and was in Tokyo by early afternoon. I spent my first day there in Asakusa, which is known mostly for its temples (you would think I’d be sick of them from living in Kyoto, but not a chance), but it’s also home to Hanayashiki, the oldest amusement park in Japan. And since it was actually a fairly short walk, I figured a trip to Tokyo Sky Tree was in order. The next day, I hit up Harajuku and headed to Mito to spend a couple days with an old friend. She and her mom ended up taking me to one of the three most famous gardens in all of Japan, Kairaku-en, which was closer to her house than her old high school! After our visit, I headed back to Tokyo to meet up with some friends from school, and we made our rounds in Akihabara and Harajuku before going back to Kyoto.

Tokyo Sky Tree lit up at night

Japan has mascots for pretty much any an d every thing. This mascot is for one of Osaka's airports. 

Which has a lot more stuff than just temples, by the way. It’s still the cultural capital of Japan, but it’s also got shopping, arcades, and a monkey park. Yes, a monkey park. You have to hike up a mountain, but you can feed monkeys at Arashiyama. The temples and shrines are what attract most people, though. Some of the more famous ones are Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha, and Kiyomizu-dera. I’ve only been to Kinkaku-ji so far, but they’re all really pretty and must-sees if you’re ever in Kyoto (which I highly recommend, because it’s really a cool city).

Hanayashiki is Japan's oldest amusement park, and actually pretty fun.

Kikaku-jin is the temple the "Brass or Bell Tower" from Pokemon is based.

It’s weird to think that my time here is half over, and I do wish that I had done some things differently (like listened to my RA when he told me to do and see things every weekend while I’m here), but overall, when I think about the things that I have seen and done, and the people I’ve met, I can’t say I regret my choice to come to Ritsumeikan, and I know that when I leave in about two months, I’ll miss all of it.

Rebecca Lynch
Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto
Spring 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

Kristena in France!


My name’s Kristena and I have been living in France this semester, attending the French business school ESDES School of Business and Management. The time leading up to my departure for France was so stressful that by the time January came around, I really didn’t even want to go, if I’m being completely honest. My family was way more excited and anxious than I was, and I remember the day before leaving I just broke down and started crying. I would have been content with just staying in the U.S. eating cookies in my pajamas, but thankfully I didn’t!

A beautiful morning in the Sahara. Morocco was beautiful!

You make all kinds of friends abroad!

I should first start by saying that my dragon, whose name was Pasha (because he was always in my pocket and I liked Pasha better than Pocky), is somewhere in Barcelona, perhaps at an ice cream shop a few minutes walk from the Sagrada Familia. I told myself I wouldn’t lose him, but alas, such are the consequences of midnight churro runs. Anyways.

There was a small memorial just outside of Big Ben after the attack

In Brussels, I only ate fries and waffles the whole time. No regrets.

France was initially quite underwhelming for me. It seemed very similar to home in a few ways and it wasn’t super pretty. In the city I live in, Lyon, there’s a lot of construction going on. Some parts are very modern, other parts are more traditional and ‘French’, and other parts aren’t that nice looking. This surprised me because I expected everything to be pristine and full of very French architecture, but that’s not entirely true. It is the second largest city in France after all. What I love about Lyon are the two rivers that run through it. It makes it a lot easier to navigate. Lyon is actually a big place, but it doesn’t feel like it. I stay within more of the center of the city, but it’s so much larger than that.

Beautiful, beautiful Amsterdam

The famous Tulip Festival in Keukenhof

I was nervous about a couple of things. One being the public transportation system, which seemed like another language to me, but I’m happy to say I’ve (mostly) mastered it. The map is actually quite small and easy to understand. I was also nervous about the language barrier. Another student who studied here at the opposite experience from me, but I don’t find much English of anywhere. So when I do hear or see it, I soak it up like a sponge. I’ve had encounters where people will say they can’t speak English, but when they realize I’m not joking, they will speak in English to me. I think it’s just that the French are very proud of their language. Sometimes I still forget that I’m as good as illiterate here, and I’ll go to read something before going, “Oh, wait. That’s right. I can’t read.” And, of course, I was nervous about culture shock--scared even. I thought I was going to be crying and depressed for weeks and was not looking forward to it, when in reality, that didn’t happen. I think I learned to get over things quickly because I knew I didn’t have any other options, and that was easier to deal with than becoming overwhelmed by my surroundings. Whenever I felt shocked or frustrated, I would just take a breath, accept it for what it was, and keep moving. The biggest moment of culture shock for me, where I actually felt it was when I was grocery shopping (another thing I was afraid of actually!), and I saw the eggs were sitting on this counter, completely out for you to pick them and there were egg containers under the shelf. I remember I just stared at it like “Are you serious???” and I just left the store as quickly as possible. The next time, I did find eggs in cartons though, so it all worked out. The point to remember is that we all adjust differently. It’s not bad if you have a rough time transitioning, or if you’re like me and yours was more subtle. At first I thought I wasn’t doing something right, but it really depends on the person and the place you’re at I believe.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Make sure you rent one of the city bikes if you come here!

I also had my reservations about being a black girl in France. Not just because I was worried about lack of hair products (bring your products, guys), but because of how it plays such a big role back home, I couldn’t fathom it being different. I’d be told before by other black students who had traveled abroad that no one really cares, but I didn’t believe them. And I won’t say that no one cares, because that would be too large a generalization. But I will say that from what I experienced, nobody seemed to care. I don’t want to say that you won’t experience anything because that just depends where you are and who you run into, but I’ve never had any issue with it. Lyon is also more diverse than I realize, but yeah. Even in less racially diverse places like Copenhagen, I didn’t have any issues. Some people aren’t worried, but I know some people are, with good reason. Don’t be afraid to rock your fro!

 Pasha in Barcelona. Miss you, buddy!

Before this semester, I’d never been to Europe, and I didn’t know when I would be coming back, so I wanted to travel as much as possible. What I didn’t expect, though, was that everyone was like me. For some people, this was their second time studying abroad. For others, like the Europeans, they weren’t in any rush to get anywhere for obvious reasons. And a lot of people seemed only interested in partying every weekend, which isn’t really my thing. Luckily, I met some nice people and was able to go on some amazing trips!

The Parliament in Budapest was breathtaking

I’ve had to learn, and am still learning, not to wait on people. This is your experience and you have to do what will make you happy. Of course, don’t be stupid about it. For instance, one of my limitations was not wanting to solo travel. The point of that matter is that I’m just not comfortable with it yet, so I kind of have had to wait on people a little bit. But if you’re not like me, then push yourself to go to that city. Start small by doing day trips. And sometimes waiting actually is beneficial. I was planning my trips weeks in advance, preparing to have to bite the bullet and go alone, but because I procrastinate, I never booked them and ended up finding people to go with. The people at my school, while they did have their groups based on nationality and/or language, they were always so open and friendly. Just ask someone what they’re doing and see if you can go or if they want to join you!

Obligatory schnitzel in Vienna. It was below freezing and rained pretty much the entire time, so this was definitely a treat.

Speaking about traveling, I thought traveling through Europe would be dirt cheap: it’s , not. At least not in Lyon. It’s no where near as expensive as the U.S., and there are some cheap snags, but I was expecting it be a lot cheaper. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me. I was able to go to 12 countries while I was here and somehow, I’m still not satisfied, but I’m teaching myself that sometimes it’s okay to sit still for a moment. Don’t feel pressured to have to be doing something every waking minute. You’re not going to sabotage your study abroad if you sit inside and just watch Netflix for the weekend. I promise.

Enjoying Trdlo in Prague

Studying in a different country, and traveling to different ones, has taught me a lot about adaptability. With adaptability also comes prioritizing. I used to stress out about the smallest things (and I still do sometimes, it’s just in my nature), but for my own sanity, I couldn’t do that here, and I had to learn that very quickly. I think that’s what helped with my transition. I can either prioritize the fact that I hate how early things close here or I can just get over it and make sure I get my shopping done before five in the afternoon. If you are focused on everything being perfect, you will sabotage yourself and you will miss opportunities. I wanted to see everything and I wanted to go places for at least three days, but that wasn’t always possible. I could either mope and groan about it and wait until the next best opportunity (of which it isn’t guaranteed), or I could soak in as much of the experience as I possible could. Doing so makes you appreciate everything as much as possible. You’re taking pictures of arbitrary things but that’s because you can’t get over the fact that you’re actually in this new and really cool place! I’ve noticed how easily I get over things now, things that while they do frustrate me, I just shrug it off and try thinking of what I can do to change it, and if nothing, then I have to accept it. My happiness is more important than my ability to be angry at something out of my control.


Study abroad is daunting. And if you’re going to come to France, the process to get here is very daunting, and I’m not going to sugar coat because I cried more times before getting in than I did while in France. Let study abroad be daunting. Don’t force things. Accept the negativity for what it is so that you can overcome it. You can overcome something that you refuse to believe exists. Be honest with yourself and with your experience. If your study abroad is as beautiful and as romantic as you expected it to be, well that’s really awesome and I’m kind of jealous of you! But if not, it’s okay. It’s normal. There is a beauty in normalcy and in being let down; it means you have to find extraordinary in seemingly ordinary things. I dare you to do so.

Crepe Day in Hotel de Ville!

If you have any questions, because that was just the surface, please feel free to email me! If you’re thinking about France or even if you’re not. If you want to talk more on anything I’ve touched on here or just random things (like where do I buy lined paper in France? Because they used graph paper, y’all.), then hit me up!

Kristena Armwood
ESDES School of Business & Management
Lyon, France
Spring 2017